Thursday, March 10, 2011

Growing Container Fruit Trees in Kihei

Brown Turkey Fig

A backyard orchard is a contemporary concept in urban or residential gardening. The idea is to have continuous fruit harvests throughout the growing season by planting a wide variety of fruit trees close together, or in containers. The trees are pruned to keep them low and easy to harvest.

I began growing potted fruit trees 3 years ago and I've had an equal amount of success and failure. I've trialed Manoa Sweet acerola cherry, Dwarf Apple banana, Sunrise papaya and several different varieties of fig, lemon, lime, olive, pomegranate and tangerine.

Acerola cherry, Apple banana and Sunrise papaya weren't container trees. These root systems needed a lot more room to grow. The roots eventually broke through the containers before the trees ever produced any fruit.

Taggiasca and Arbequina Olive
Just beginning their 2nd year

Fig, olive and pomegranate have been the easiest fruit trees to grow - they're very forgiving and drought tolerant. They won't perish if they're over-watered or under-watered and they don't seem to have any special fertilizer requirements.

I don't recommend olive trees as they don't produce fruit in Kihei, they need what's known as chill hours in order to trigger flowering in the spring. Chill hours are also needed to grow apple, pear, persimmon and stone fruits but these fruits do grow at the higher elevations on Maui.

Information about low chill hour fruit trees and fruit producing plants can be found here:

Tahitian Lime

Citrus grows very well in the ground in all areas of Maui. However, my container planted citrus has been very temperamental. The problem may be that soil temps get too hot for the roots during the summer months. Potted citrus, when grown in Kihei, has significant fertilizer needs.

Citrus trees are widely available at most of the garden centers in Kihei and Kahului. Kula Hardware has the largest selection of fruit trees on Maui. The selection varies throughout the year but they do keep a call list. In February, they bring in a wide variety of bareroot trees from the Mainland. It's a good idea to be on their list if there's a specific tree you'd like to buy.

Another good source for bareroot trees is Bay Laurel Nursery. They have a very large selection of bareroot fruit trees and plants and they ship to Hawaii. The bareroot trees are shipped from January through March. For best selection, order in September; for the best price, but limited selection, order in late February or early March. I'll address bareroot trees more specifically later in this post.

White Kadota Fig, a bareroot Angel Red Pomegranate,
Fremont Tangerine and a fruiting Angel Red Pomegranate

Most of my fruit trees are planted in 30 gallon containers that I purchased at Home Depot. They're the largest container I've found locally that's affordable and consistently stocked.

These containers last about 2 years before the rims begin to crack from constant sun exposure. Container grown trees can be repotted without shocking the tree. In fact some guidebooks recommend uprooting potted trees when they're dormant and trimming the roots every 3 years. Another option is to line the container with one of the larger SmartPots 

I fill the container with a natural and organic potting soil and 1/2 cup of green sand. I fertilize the tree once a month with 1/2 cup of an organic all purpose fertilizer and some well rotted compost. So far, this has been enough for the fig, olive and pomegranate trees but citrus requires additional fertilizers. I've used several organic products that are formulated specifically for citrus  but my trees still aren't thriving.

Following is a link to a very informative video on how to transplant a tree:

As for pests, the birds don't bother the citrus but they will peck at the ripening figs and pomegranates. There are various ways of deterring the birds - I find the plastic netting works well.

Rose beetles will attack the pomegranate leaves, aphids, white flies and a small insect I haven't been able to identify go after the citrus leaves and the fig leaves are susceptible to leaf rust. Other than the birds, I've not had any pests attack the fruit.

A Bareroot Black Jack Fig
Just starting to bud

If you decide to purchase a bareroot tree it's a very good idea to be prepared to plant it within a few days. In Kihei, bareroot trees will dry out and die if planting is delayed. If you're planting in a container it's best to have the container and potting soil prior to receiving the tree.

The first time I purchased bareroot trees I wasn't ready and didn't plant the trees for 10 days. Even though I kept the roots moist, the trees died not long after they were planted. This year I planted my trees the following day and within 2 weeks they were budding.

With bareroot trees the right level of moisture is critical in the beginning. The trees won't develop their roots if the soil is too wet or dry. Although the general recommendation is to water the tree just after you plant it and not again until it buds, this is not the best advice for a container planted tree in Kihei. In Kihei, it's important to check the moisture level in the soil at least a foot from the surface every few days. If the soil drys out before the leaves start to develop, the root system may be too fragile for the tree to survive.

In the near future, I'll be uploading posts that individually address the various types of trees I've been growing.


  1. Hey there lady...nice to see a post from you! Hope all is well.

    You have a very nice variety of fruit trees growing in containers. There are a few dwarf varieties that I want to purchase this year for growing in containers....hopefully I will get to it!

  2. Hi Robin! I fall behind on my blog sometimes due to my work schedule. Luckily Hawaii didn't get hit by the tsunami last night although the sirens were sounding for several hours. After I saw the live footage from Japan, I realized how vulnerable I am as I live a 1/2 mile from the ocean.

    There are a lot of advantages to growing potted fruit trees. In your climate you'll probably be able to grow a much wider variety in containers. Most of my trees began to fruit during the 2nd year after I planted them and I should have a decent fig and pomegranate harvest this summer.

  3. Your pomegranates look great Jane!

    I have a few different types of figs scattered around, young still so no fruit. I don't expect to get the heat needed for them to ripen up properly most of the year but you never know. Yours should sweeten up beautifully, mmmm.

    I'm so tired from being up all last night, hope i'm making sense! We're so blessed.

  4. Hi Julie! Wow there was so much more damage than I realized this morning. I hope you were secure where you live and didn't experience any flooding.

    Figs grow so well here - one of the few things that actually likes the Kihei climate! I planted most of the figs 2 to 3 years ago and the trees are full of fruit this season. Supposedly fig trees do best when they're roots are confined so it might take the trees longer to fruit when they're planted in the ground. I would think you should be able to grow them successfully where you are.

  5. Aloha Jane,
    Your fruit trees in pots look great! I tried growing my dwarf meyer lemon in a pot and it didn't do so great until I put it in the ground. My mulberry "bush" is so luxuriant I have to keep pruning. I haven't posted anything about the cabbage seeds I got from you because I was embarassed that they just sat there after transplanting--thought I had failed, but lo and behold they started growing--especially the Testa di ferro. I don't know if it will head in this weather, but I have my fingers crossed. My Bright Lights swiss chard, Toscano Kale, and green collards are really popping. Take care, Corliss

  6. Hi Corliss! Mahalo for your feedback on your Meyer lemon. So far, limes have been the only citrus that's been adaptable to life in a container in the Kihei sun.

    I'm sad your cabbage didn't grow very well! Please don't have any anxiety about the seeds - I'm just happy to share them. It was a very challenging winter this year and my garden didn't really get going until it cooled off some in February. The high levels of vog noticeably affected my plants in December and January. I'm glad your chard, collards and kale are growing!

  7. Hello,

    I grow tropical fruit and spice trees (despite the fact I live in Tennessee). Could you please tell me where you got your Manoa Sweet Acerola? I'm hoping to find a garden center or nursery willing to mail me one. Obviously, shipping live plants from Hawaii can be problematic, but seeds inspected by the Hawaii Dept. of Ag. are fine, plus the inspection is free. Thanks for your time.

    --Andy Bush

  8. Hi Andy! Plant It Hawaii is the distributor for the Manoa acerola cherry tree. They're located on the Big Island -